An exquisite delivery

By Annamarie Cunningham
May 27, 2004

The Postal Service is unlike any other independent music group today. The virtual mail-in side project of Los Angeles-based Dntel genius Jimmy Tamborello and the Seattle-based voice of Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard, The Postal Service has been a breath of fresh air in a time of repetitive, uncreative drivel. Consisting of a veritable “who’s who” of the independent rock world, the group mixes thumping bass beats, charming melodies, smooth vocals, and lyrics that tell brilliant stories to form one of the most delightful albums of the past few years.

In 2001, Tamborello contacted Gibbard to lay down vocals on a song from his latest work, “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan” (from Dntel’s 2001 release “Life is Full of Possibilities”). In a Sub Pop Records press release, Jimmy says, “It seemed kind of effortless. He came down and sang it once and we were just really happy with it.” Citing how easy their collaboration was, Tamborello and Gibbard decided to put together an EP of music like “Evan and Chan.” A Sub Pop Records’ A&R rep took the idea to his label, and from there The Postal Service began.

Later that year, Gibbard started receiving packages from Tamborello in Los Angeles consisting of CD-Rs full of ideas featuring Tamborello’s signature electronic beats. Gibbard wrote melodies and lyrics, then added his vocals. Gibbard recruited Death Cab for Cutie bandmate Chris Walla to add some guitar licks, percussion backgrounds and keyboards. Having completed that, Gibbard sent the recordings back to Tamborello for approval. Their story continued over the next 10 months, back and forth through the mail, leading to the name The Postal Service. They wound up with a 10-track album, “Give Up,” released by Sub Pop in February 2003.

As soon as the album begins, the listener is catapulted into countless other places and times. “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” sets a path of awakening after a necessary breakup and the awkward meetings afterward. The pretty love song “Such Great Heights” has a positive sound and lyrics that express undying affection for the love of a person’s life. The fun vibe behind “Sleeping In” makes the listener want to stay in the described dreamland because it feels so much more peaceful than the real world.

Gibbard’s duet with Jen Wood on “Nothing Better” tells the story of a man not wanting to let go, and a woman who is forever drawn to him but who can no longer stay. On the breathy song “Recycled Air,” the tale is told of the takeoff and flight of an airplane. Gibbard describes the feelings of a first takeoff, with “knuckles clenched to white as the landing gear retract for flight.”

“Clark Gable” is another story of wanting to know love, and remember what love is, and of pulling out all the stops to make believe that love can happen, “that there is truth, that love is real.” “We Will Become Silhouettes” tells the story of people re-emerging after a bomb hits town. Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis lends backing vocals in a surprisingly upbeat tale of what happens when we die.

Gibbard’s haunting vocals on “The Place is a Prison” describe the feeling of not being able to fight off feelings of being trapped. “Brand New Colony” puts the listener into a late 1980s Nintendo-era video game about wanting not only to fall in love and protect the relationship, but ultimately to do anything possible to get one another to a new place where everything is perfect and nothing can hurt anyone.

The 10th and final song starts with four minutes of electronica that channels Dntel. It tells a tale of a man writing a “Natural Anthem” for people to rally and sing together about the love of his life.

Though they are both still working with their main projects, Gibbard and Tamborello have toured as the Postal Service and have both expressed interest in a second mail-in album.

Related link: The Postal Service's official site